Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man when his father is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy’s mother. Two decades later, Amleth is now a Viking who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a seeress who reminds him of his vow — save his mother, kill his uncle, avenge his father.

Editing: Louise Ford
Robin Carolan, Sebastian Gainsborough

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers
Writers: Robert Eggers, Sjón
Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke

After impressing with his previous horror works The Witch and The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers next film has been eagerly anticipated. While it would seem that making a Viking revenge epic would see him make a departure from the psychological and tension-filled films he’s known for, The Northman proves to be every bit the type of film we expect from Eggers, just on a bigger scale.

Based on the legend of Amleth, which inspired William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Northman follows the life of Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), the son of King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) who rule over their nordic kingdom. Amleth’s life is turned upside down when his father is killed by his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) who seeks to take the kingdom and the queen for his own. Amleth escapes but vows to one day return for revenge and to save his mother. Years later while fighting as a Viking berserker, Amleth learns his uncle has now been exiled to Iceland and sets about seeking his fated revenge.

Robert Eggers handles the increased scale and cast with aplomb, creating a fantastic revenge film that blends norse myth with historical accuracy while managing to fill each frame with the style we’ve come to expect from him. A feeling of tension lingers throughout the film as Amleth infiltrates Fjölnir’s village as a slave, planning to make his uncle’s life a nightmare before fulfilling his vow. Eggers with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke capture the action beautifully with long unbroken shots of the gory and violent bloodshed Amleth is conducting while making even the most mundane shots feel powerful and showcasing the incredible production design in this film. Unafraid to embrace darkness and washed-out colours, The Northman is a stunning film to look at with some particularly memorable visuals.

The story will certainly not provide many surprises familiar with the original legend or Hamlet but I found myself truly captivated by the way Eggers was telling it. The film rarely gets bogged down by melodrama or character development, rather moving forward and staying on task to get to its fated ending, just like its protagonist. The story being rather simple and linear was helpful with some of the dialogue hard to catch at times. While I loved watching this on the big screen, listening to Robin Carolan & Sebastian Gainsborough intense score and hearing the fantastic sound design (hearing Amleth unsheathe his sword, Draugr, for the first time made my hairs stand on end), I am looking forward to being able to put subtitles on as not to miss a single word.

Alexander Skarsgård‘s performance holds the film together, delivering a turn that is filled with primal energy and physicality that I couldn’t look away from. Aya Talyor-Joy continues to be one of the most interesting actresses working right now with a feisty performance as Olga of the Birch Forest, a Slavic sorceress who aids Amleth in his quest. Claes Bang proves to be a formidable villain to overcome while Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe leave an impression despite their limited screen time. But it is Nicole Kidman who delivers the best moment in the film with a devastating monologue that turns things on its head.

Engaging from start to finish, Robert Eggers delivers a fantastic Viking epic that is bigger than anything he’s done to date but loses none of the vision he’s displayed in his previous films. Unlike anything else being released in cinemas at the moment, The Northman is well worth your time and money to see on the big screen.

Ashley Hobley attended an advance screening of The Northman thanks to Universal Pictures Australia and Reading Cinemas.